Recent Stats Show Marked Drop in Use of Solitary Confinement Across Canada

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We’ve regularly been blogging about prison conditions and the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities across Canada. Today, the Globe and Mail reports that federal prisons have recorded a significant drop in the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement, following the implementation of new rules that bar certain vulnerable individuals from being put in isolation cells.

New Correctional Service of Canada Policies Introduced

Two significant Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) policies (Commissioner’s Directive 709 and Commissioner’s Directive 843) underwent major revisions, both effective August 1 of this year.

Following these changes, several categories of inmate can no longer be held in solitary confinement, including those who are imminently suicidal, self-harming, seriously mentally ill, physically disabled, terminally ill, or pregnant.

In addition, those prisoners who do end up in solitary confinement will have several new rights, including an allowance of two hours out of their cells (an increase from the one hour they were previously afforded).

These new changes come in the wake of significant public outcry over the use of solitary confinement and subsequent scrutiny of the CSC’s segregation practices. Starting in 2014, the Globe and Mail has reported extensively on the use of solitary confinement, and its effects on inmates. Following the first of these stories, the CSC launched a strategy to attempt to reduce the number of inmates housed in isolation.

In January 2015, the John Howard Society of Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) sued the federal government, and in the trial that began last month in the B.C. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs argued that solitary confinement amounts to torture.

Updated Statistics on Solitary Confinement

Data obtained by the Globe and Mail shows that, as of August 2, 2017 (one day following the implementation of the new policies), the CSC held 301 inmates in “administrative segregation” (the CSC’s term for solitary confinement).

This marks a significant decrease from 399 inmates that were held in solitary confinement in June, and the average of 800 inmates three years ago.

The total number of segregation admissions has fallen from 8,522 in 2014/2015 to 6,261 in 2016/2017.

A CSC spokesperson told the Globe and Mail that the reduction of segregated inmates comes largely from the CSC’s increased efforts to divert inmates with mental-health issues to “more therapeutic environments where their needs can be addressed”. She noted further, that the impact of the amended Directives has yet to be assessed.

Reaction to the Policy Change

Despite this decrease, some observers of the prison system continue to have concerns about how these decreases were achieved, and how easily the numbers could revert back to their previous high.

The Federal Prisons Ombudsman, Ivan Zinger, who provided the data to the Globe, noted that he has some concerns, and that he is going to put a strategy in place to monitor how the policies will be applied.

Gord Robertson, the second national vice-president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has said that the additional one hour inmates are able to spend outside of their cell might be “tricky” to implement. He notes that many facilities do not have the physical space to permit every inmate to have two hours of recreation time. Making this change could mean either adding staff, or building additional infrastructure to accommodate everyone.

Catherine Latimer, the Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada has noted that inmates complain regularly that they are being woken up when it is still dark to get “yard time”. If an inmate chooses not to go out in the early morning, they generally will not get another chance for yard time for another 24 hours.

Dr. Zinger notes that the lack of resources and staff in many facilities means that segregated inmates are often asked to take their recreation time along with other segregated inmates. This is generally not an issue, unless inmates do not feel safe spending rec time with others. If this happens, the inmate is marked as “declining exercise”.

A Step in the Right Direction

Ms. Latimer notes that barring certain groups from being held in segregation is a “step in the right direction”, but that she would rather see such measures enshrined in law, rather than in a policy. This is echoed by Dr. Zinger, who has said

Those kinds of protections should really be in legislation rather than in policy directions that can be changed rather easily.

Dr. Zinger further anticipates that as the number of inmates held in segregation continues to decline, those who remain in isolation will be the “really difficult cases”.

The Liberal government has also introduced legislative changes to segregation through Bill C-56; however, the proposed legislation does not mention any prohibitions on vulnerable groups in segregation.

We will continue to follow developments in this matter. In the meantime, if you have questions about your rights, contact the criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP in Oshawa. Our firm and its predecessors have been protecting client’s legal rights since 1992. We are highly knowledgeable and extremely experienced at defending a wide range of criminal charges. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help. Call us at 905-404-1947 or contact us online for a free consultation.